Dale Batchelor is everywhere.
His photography graces downtown Sonora stores and homes of tourists moved by his art. His name is spoken with pride by an aging clan of environmental activists known for their opposition to filling New Melones in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He was a sound engineer on Neil Young’s self-titled debut solo album in 1969, a documentarian for the Strawberry Music Festival, and a founding father of Tuolumne County public access television.
In his later years, he could be seen every morning, puttering around downtown Sonora, with a camera in hand.
“What my father stood for was he embraced the beauty of Sonora, and no matter what time of year it was. Sure, he could be a protestor and an advocate for saving the world, but he told his stories in photos. I think that speaks volumes to his lineage and what he provided to Tuolumne County,” his son, Brett Batchelor said on Tuesday.
Batchelor died Tuesday at his Sonora home. He was 82.
Tuolumne County and career
Dale Batchelor was born in British Columbia, Canada, in 1936. He moved to Long Beach with his mother when he was a teenager, Brett Batchelor said, and it was before he finished high school that he first heard about a legendary and riches-laden community in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
“In his junior year, a bunch of his classmates showed up with brand new cars and my dad asked them where they got the money for them. They said, ‘we’ve been logging in Tuolumne County.’”
About 1956, Dale moved to Sonora to work as a logger in Cherry Valley. The building that is now the Standard Pour restaurant was the central office where he received his checks, his son said.
His ex-wife, Kathleen Huntley, who lives in Idaho, said they met at a folk rock club called the Golden Bear in 1964 where he was working as a sound and light man for performers such as Ian & Sylvia, Steve Martin and Glenn Yarbrough. On the side,
Dale Batchelor worked as an electrician at Disneyland and did audio work for “The Love Bug.”
From there, “things became completely wild,” his son said.
While working as an independent audio engineer in places such as Sunset Sound and Sound City in Los Angeles, recording artists such as Julie London, Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell and John Hartford, Dale Batchelor was introduced to Neil Young and invited to work as an audio engineer on his debut solo album.
“This was right after Neil broke up with the Buffalo Springfield,” Huntley said. “We used to go to his house in Topanga. I thought he was a very nice man. Their relationship was both a friendship and professional.”
Brett Batchelor said he remembered being at Neil Young’s house — “a tiny little cottage in LA” — and watching his parents talk through the recording of the record.
“These guys always talked shop. That was probably big deal how not to be screwed over by the recording industry. Neil Young had signed in on a contract, and a starving artist was absolutely true,” he said.
After living out many fruitful years in the Los Angeles area, the Bachelor family moved back to the Mother Lode in about 1975. He worked as an electrician at Calaveras Asbestos Ltd. Mine and Mill, and later with the Sonora Mining Company. For a few years, Dale Batchelor owned a photography store on Mono Way known as “The ‘F’ Stop.”
“He had a very inventive and creative mind when it came to sound and music, it was always about the music and the sound and photography,” Huntley said.
Martin Blake, a historian for the environmental struggle over the Stanislaus River dam at New Melones, said Dale Batchelor would be remembered as one of the foremost modern documentarians of Tuolumne County.
“He was really the unofficial photographer of Sonora, if not the unofficial mayor. He cared about people, he cared about politics, he cared about art, and there was no one that he wasn’t willing to go out of his way to help,” Blake said.
Chris Lusardi, manager of Funky Junk in downtown Sonora, said she met Dale Batchelor over a year ago when he went into her shop and asked if he could sell his prints there.
From then on, she said she would see him downtown at around 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. almost every day, and sometimes he would even come into Funky Junk to “fuss” with his pictures, she said.
His most popular photograph and bestseller was of the downtown Sonora Red Church in the snow, she said.
Blake said Dale Batchelor’s photographic advocacy with the Stanislaus river canyon was founded in a believe that the beauty and biodiversity of the area should be recorded for future generations. Besides scenes of nature, his photographs capture a guerrilla movement that often utilized subversive graffiti to make its opinion known.
“He was an independent documentation who was chronicling this unique environmental struggle to find a compromise with the filling of the dam and keeping as much of the river as possible,” Blake said.
Dale Batchelor performed a clandestine rafting trip to photograph and record Mark Dubois, an environmental activist who founded the Friends of the River, after he chained himself to a rock in 1979 to protest the filling of a canyon above Parrotts Ferry at New Melones.
“He had this love for Parrotts Ferry, he had this love for Knights Ferry and that whole area. He was passionate,” Brett Batchelor said.
Blake said he met Dale Batchelor in 1976 and they had a shared interest in video editing and recording.
“I realized that Dale knew as much as the aesthetics of film than anyone I had met professionally at University of Southern California. He had taken all this knowledge and made it work on a grassroots level,” Blake said.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the worked collaboratively on video and audio recording of the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather, and produced videos for Tuolumne County Community Public Access television, Cable 8.
“He knew that licences were being given out to various regions for Public Access television, so he arranged for Columbia College to have videos for public access channel. With my background in film, I was hired to work with him,” Blake said.
Lusardi and other business owners have petitioned to the Sonora Chamber of Commerce to dedicate the Second Saturday Art Walk in January to Dale Batchelor’s memory, she said.
When he was put into hospice care at his home in downtown Sonora, he tried to maintain his social schedule.
“He just couldn't do that anymore. He was suddenly lost to his social world,” said Jeanne Hoyle, one of Dale Batchelor’s caregivers in his final weeks.
Hoyle said in his final weeks he received nearly 50 visitors and dozens of messages from well wishers.
His final guests were Josh Weeks, a Sonora musician and a realtor, and his partner, Lita Hope, of Sonora.
“We played Jack Elliott for him. That and the Carpenters were always his favorites. That seemed to calm him down a little bit,” Weeks said.
Weak, and barely able to speak, Dale Batchelor held Hope’s hand and told them both that he loved them, Weeks said.
“He was just such a kid at heart,” Weeks said. I’ll always remember that he saved my butt when I first showed up in Tuolumne County. He gave me two months free rent and I stayed at his place. Otherwise I would have had to leave town. He had a heart decades younger than his age.”
“Life for Dale was always an adventure. He was ready for the next step. There was no challenge he was not willing to take,” Blake said.